What is the National Flower of Ireland?

We’ve looked at the national animal of Ireland, but what is the national flower of Ireland?

Ireland is a country in Europe that shares borders with the United Kingdom. The official language is ‎English, Irish and the Euro is the current currency of Ireland. Every country in the world has national symbols, including national animal, national flower, motto, etc, and Ireland is no exception.  Ireland has many symbols that have a significance in the country. However, in this blog we are going to focus on the national flower. We will discuss what the national flower of Ireland and Northern Ireland is and why.

What is the National Flower of Ireland?

The national flower of Ireland and Northern Ireland is the shamrock (Botanical name is Trifolium dubium), and it holds a special place in Irish history. In Ireland, a “shamrock” is usually applied to a small-leaved clover. Species traditionally identified as shamrock are part of the Fabaceae or legume family.

Clovers are known for their ability to affix nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil through their roots. The nectar from their flowers is a favorite of butterflies, bees, and other pollinators.

Even in Ireland, it is not really known which plant is the true Irish shamrock. There are five plants, the first three are clovers (Trifolium), one is a clover-like plant called medick, and the last resembles a clover called wood sorrel and is a wildflower. 

The five plants are called:

  • Lesser trefoil/Hop clover – Trifolium dubium
  • Red clover – Trifolium pratense
  • White clover – Trifolium repens
  • Black medic/Medick – Medicago lupulina
  • Wood sorrel – Oxalis acetosella

There are also members of the Oxalis genus, such as the wood sorrel (Oxalis montana) and the purple shamrocks (Oxalis triangularis) which are sold as shamrocks for St. Patrick’s Day.

The History of the Shamrock

Shamrock (the name) means ‘young clover’ in the Irish seamair óg. The meaning of shamrock is tied to the Christian religion. The number three is significant in the Christian religion because of the doctrine of the Trinity. It is said in Ireland that St. Patrick, a patron saint of Ireland, a missionary, and a bishop, demonstrated the principle behind the Trinity using a shamrock, pointing to its three leaflets united by a common stalk.

St Patrick himself (Ireland’s patron saint) is said to have used the shamrock as a visual to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity. A Trinity doctrine is commonly expressed as the statement that the one God exists as or in three equally divine “Persons”, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

The shamrock can be traced all the way back to the outset of the Revolutionary War. This is when troops were transferred from Ireland to the colonies. 

The shamrock also plays a significant role in:

  • Modern agriculture 
  • Beekeeping
  • Homeopathic medicine
  • Food for livestock 
  • Natural dyeing 

The shamrocks relevance to good luck

The four-leafed clover is a common symbol of good luck. Clovers that have four or more leaves is a genetic mutation, and it occurs in about 1 in 5,000 clovers. 

A common tradition around Ireland is when Irish people wear springs that they identify as shamrocks on St Patrick’s Day in remembrance of the Saint’s teachings. These are usually pinned to a hat or lapel.

Another tradition, which is less common, is where shamrocks are ‘drowned’ in a cup of Irish whiskey at the end of the day and, after the cup has been drained, it is thrown over the drinker’s left shoulder for good luck.

What is the Difference between a Shamrock and a Four-Leaved Clover?

It is quite easy to see the difference between a shamrock and a clover. Basically shamrocks have three leaves, and four-leaved clovers have four. It is a rare mutation that causes the extra leaf which is why it’s very hard to find a four-leaf clover.

Other national symbols of Ireland:

  • The National sport is considered to be the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA)
  • The National animal of Ireland is Irish Hare
  • The National bird of Ireland is Northern lapwing
  • The National dish is the Irish stew
  • The National dance is the solar Irish dance
  • The National dress is the kilt
  • The National tree is the Sessile Oak
  • The National color is green

Today the Shamrock is Ireland’s most well known national symbol. It is recognised throughout the world, and there is a good chance you’ve seen it before. The shamrock logo is used by many Irish organisations and businesses. Also, as a part of the St Patricks Day celebration (on the 17th of March), the shamrock is displayed on lots of things such as beer, bunting, hats etc.